Wednesday, December 30, 2015

New Covers for 2016

For 2016 I worked up some new covers for my books. I used the same art (my own) but reversed the priorities – putting the titles in the box and letting the art fill the cover. I'm thinking they're an improvement. At least I've eliminated that black outline around the text of A Summer in Amber that was problematical in the thumbnail images. 

Everything I read about self-publishing says you need professionally designed covers. You should make your cover look like the covers of other, professionally designed books in your genre because people judge the quality of the book by the quality of its cover. I have to admit I do as well. That said, I can't say I'm all that impressed with many of the presumably professionally designed covers I see. Possibly because they all look alike. Since I'm not writing my stories to be just like other stories in their genre – I'm writing the stories I can't find to read – I think my covers should reflect their outlier nature. And since my stories are rather old fashioned, I think my covers should suggest that too. Which, at any rate, is my story, and I'm sticking with it. That, and the fact that my cover budget is $0, so cover design, as well as everything else, must be done in-house.  

Monday, December 7, 2015

Cin, Siss, and the Pirates of Temtre

Cin, Siss, and the Pirates of Temtre is the first episode in the planned companion volume for The Bright Black Sea, tentatively titled The Lost Star's Sea. It will chronicle the (mis)adventures of Captain Wil Litang in the Archipelago of the Tenth Star. The Bright Black Sea took something like four years to write and I don't anticipate that The Lost Star's Sea, likely just as long, will be written any faster. As of now I'm 65 years old, and can't count on tomorrow, much less four years from now, so I'm planning to release the beta versions of each episode as I produce them. I use the terms "alpha" and "beta" rather than first and final drafts because I haven't a clue as to where the story will end up, and I may well need to go back and make minor alterations in an episode or two to make things come out the way they should in the end. Thus, the individual episodes should be considered somewhat tentative until they are rolled into The Lost Star's Sea. 70,000 years and uncounted lightyears away make transcribing Wil Litang's account a sometimes iffy venture.

Cin, Siss, and the Pirates of Temtre, is a short novel length, 60,000+ word, episode that serves as a bridge between this new novel and The Bright Black Sea. The Bright Black Sea was written as an ode to the golden and pulp age writers of science fiction. In The Lost Star's Sea I'm setting out to write a fond tribute to only one of them – Edgar Rice Burroughs. In the Archipelago of the Tenth Star I have a vast stage filled with strange and wild creatures, savage and advance peoples, swords and sails, mysteries and dangers at every turn that must be faced and if not conquered, survived. I intend, to give those old stories some new twists – I rather doubt any damsels in these tales will need rescuing. Litang, on the other hand... Well, as I indicated, I really don't know where the story will lead us. I have plot elements hanging from The Bright Black Sea to work with, and have tossed in other possibilities as well in this episode, but where they'll lead is anyone's guess. I have ideas where Litang will end up in the next two episodes, but after that, well, I'll just have to wait and see what develops.

I may tinker with this alpha version over the next two weeks, but I plan to put it away until April or May 2016. By then I should be able to approach it bright eyed and bushy tailed, and with the story down, devote myself to crafting the words to make the story as entertaining as I can. Revisions are always more fun than getting the story down the first time, so the heavy lifting is done. If all goes well, I'll release the episode sometime late May or June 2016.

In the meanwhile, I'm hoping to at least get a start on a completely new novel, a fantasy set not in some medieval world, but in a sort of Edwardian age. Motor cars, trains, and the arcane arts of a lost age. We'll see if I can get that to lift.


Saturday, December 5, 2015

NEW! Ver. 2.0 of The Bright Black Sea Now Available


The Bright Black Sea Version 2.0 is now available on Smashwords and Amazon. It will be available on iBooks and Barnes & Noble within the next few days. 

Ver. 2.0 brings many "bug fixes", hopefully addressing concerns expressed in some early reviews. I moved the file from a Mac to a Windows machine and a newer version of LibreOffice, which then highlighted many typos and questionable words that the old version had not. Whether this is the result of LibreOffice being a newer version or that over the years of working in the old program many words may've somehow gotten into the program's dictionary and so weren't highlighted, I can't say. I do think that this is a significant update for everyone, and especially if you are just now starting to read a version released before 5 Dec 2015. Not only does it corrected misspellings, eliminate extra spaces and correct punctuation, but I've also straightened out several dozen awkward sentences, improved the constancy of names, made some minor clarifications, and restored "then" to the work.

Some how – no doubt operator error, since it's always operator error – while using the "find and replace" function of the program without a word in the "replace" box to check the usage of "then" (after the work had been proof-read), I must've hit "replace all" instead of "done". As a result, every "then" in the document was replaced with a space. Murphy's Law in action – if something can go wrong, it will. Hopefully, I've now restored those missing "then"s.

This work was written over the course of some four years and the decision to publish it was made only towards the end of the process. Going forward with new works, and with the knowledge that I will be publishing these works, I hope to use the lessons I've learned the hard way and have a process in place from day one that will eliminate these errors prior to publication, producing a cleaner copy out of the starting gate.

That said, there will likely always be some typos. Writing and editing/proof reading are two different professions, and I'm not an editor/proof reader. Professional proof readers charge between $.02 to $.03 a word and editing can jump the bill to $.04 a word. There are about 327,500 words in The Bright Black Sea. If you do the math you'd see that it would cost between $6,550 and $9,825 to have this book professionally proof read, and up to $13,100 to be professionally edited. There is simply no combination of price & sales volume that could ever be expected to produce enough royalties to cover even a tiny faction of this expense for an independently published writer like myself without a large established base of readers. I've read that 95% of indie published works fail to cover their expenses. And I know that it is very common for new authors to be able to count their sales on the fingers of their two hands and put a name to almost every sale as well. By forgoing professional covers, proof reading and paid promotions, I can at least break even with a cover price of free. The actual price of the work, however, will be typos. I will continue to try improve my processes to make that price as small and as painless as possible as well.

To upgrade to the new version you will need to:

Smashwords versions will probably have to be re-downloaded. It's live now.

iBooks versions include a "update" button that should update the book to the newest version when it becomes available. Didn't seem to work, same old version. I was able to get the new version only after deleting it from my collection and then re-downloading it. 
Amazon versions should be updated by going to a "Manage your Devices" page and turning on automatic updates. Personally, I've had no luck with this either. 
I tried several times to re-download to kindle my Kindle Fire the new version without success even after I set the preferences to automatically update. I deleted it from my account (in you account settings, not just on your device) and tried again. Still ver. 1.1. Contacted Amazon support, I was told it was a technical problem that I'd have to call or chat with tech support. Screw it. I went to Smashwords:
and downloaded the mobi (Kindle) ver. on my Fire tablet and it opened up just fine with the Kindle app. If you're experiencing the same problem I did, this would be my suggested solution.

Amazon Update 15 Jan 16 I read in one blog or another, that Amazon does not update for minor version changes like correcting typos and new covers. At least not without jumping through hoops. So if you've downloaded an earlier version of this story and are only now getting around to reading it, you might want to try another source. 

Barnes & Noble versions, haven't a clue. I don't have a B & N account.

Kobo. My computer's OS version is too old for the latest Kobo software, so I don't know how you can update your version. (I only recently discovered that Kobo doesn't report free sales, so I hadn't realized anyone was downloading from Kobo until I saw some ratings on the site. Thanks!)

Sunday, November 15, 2015

New Bio


Playing around with a new bio to spice up my various author pages. Below is the current draft.

Chuck Litka, who signs his stories and paintings C. Litka, plies his art as an amateur, which is to say, for pleasure rather than profit so he never has to wonder Will this sell? He has dreamed of writing science fiction since his distant youth, but his intrinsic inability to spell English, together with a certain lack of persistence doomed his early efforts to doorstops.

He attended the University of Wisconsin earning a BA in International Relations, and a BS in Agronomy. He worked for several government agencies, stocked shelves in grocery stores, and spent 13 years in pre-press as the printing industry moved from manual to digital, ending up as a graphics tech for a small daily newspaper before giving it all up to paint.
He lives with his wife in rural Wisconsin. Weather permitting, he rides his bike for several hours a day, occasionally tends a small garden and mows his lawn once a week. Unless it doesn't need it.
Come now, Chuck, we'll need a little more than that. And no, I can't just make stuff up. A bio is not a work of fiction.
He bakes his own sour dough bread, and drinks four mugs of tea a day – loose leaf, not tea bags.
Great, that added 21 words and a great deal of excitement. Yes, I'm being sarcastic. How about travel? Travel's always material good for a bio.
Mr Litka spent several months traveling from Wick to Penzance in the early '70 on a British Rail pass.
Care to add any more to that?
He left his appendix in Canterbury.
Right. And since then? You know, in the last 40 years?
He's been to Nester Falls, Steamboat Springs, Baileys Harbor and Two Rivers, but these days he hates to travel. He wonders, with Google street view, why anyone goes anywhere when they can see the world from their easy chair?
Okay. Moving on. What else do you do for excitement? ...No, I don't think cleaning the leaves out of your rain gutters warrant inclusion.Yes, I realize it involves an element of danger, but still, we'll give it a miss. What else?
He usually spends an hour or two in the morning, and another hour or two in the evening writing. Once or twice a week he may paint a picture. He daydreams a lot.
Heaven help me. Please, I need something interesting to write about. No go.
Years ago he read a book, The Golden Age, in which he came across a story about an absentminded old man – "...eccentric, learned.. [who] ...was alleged to have written a real book"living an uneventful life in a house filled with books. This struck him as the ideal life. When he no longer needed to help rich men get richer, he adopted it.
He's currently working on a new story to see him through the long winter ahead, if snow shoveling doesn't do him in first.
Well, it certainly won't be excitement that does him in. Really, he's every bit as exciting as a bare white ceiling without a crack. His idea life.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Thanks for Your Reviews and Ratings


I'd like to thank everyone has taken the time to review and/or rate my books at Smashwords, Amazon, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and Goodreads. I am always curious to know what people think of my efforts, even if curiosity should sometimes kill the cat. I truly appreciate your comments and criticisms. It is considered inappropriate for an author to respond to posted reviews. A reviewer should feel free to express their opinions without fearing a backlash from the author. That is my policy, however, I welcome any questions or comments and I'm more than willing to discuss any topic regarding my work that you might be interested in. There are several venues that you can use to post questions or comments.

There is a discussion option on my author page on Amazon, where you can start a discussion here:

I also have a page on Goodreads were you can ask questions as well, here:

I don't know if either of these places will alert me when something is posted, but I look in at least once a week, so if I don't respond right away, I should within a week.

You can also leave a comment on any post on this blog. I believe I'll get an email when you do, so I can respond promptly. (I have, and then again, I haven't, so it's hard to tell. But I do look in at least once a week as well.)

And finally, you can email me at: clitkabooks@outlook.com

Again, thanks for all your reviews and ratings. Much appreciated.


Friday, October 23, 2015

The Shape of Things to Come


With the publication of A Summer in Amber, Some Day Days, and The Bright Black Sea, all my major writing projects of the last five years are completed. With one little exception,(below) anything new will have to be started from scratch. So what will that be?

Currently I have several ideas. The Bright Black Sea was an ode to all the old golden age science fiction I read in my youth, and I would like to write a story as an ode to one in particular – Edgar Rice Burroughs with a story in the of Carson of Venus mode. I have a vague idea of writing a sort of fantasy set in an Edwardian age-like setting. And I also have this Three Robots in a Boat idea that involves three robots returning to a long abandoned earth to try to figure out whatever happened to their creators (humans)whose ultimate fate was lost over the eons, due to file format changes and digital decay in the robotic central memory.

These are all just the noses of a story. It's getting them to the wagging tail that takes time and work. We'll have to see what develops. If anything.

That said, I have, however, slowly started a new story and I'm some 15,000 words into it. It looks to be either a long novella or a short novel – but it's yet to take on a definite tone and believable story arc. I have the pieces of the story in a pile, but I haven't quite got them to fit together into an entertaining and believable story with characters acting in believable ways yet. I hope, however, to have all this worked out and a petty solid first draft done by the holidays, after which I'd lay it aside and start another new project, one of the ideas mentioned above, or something new. If I can get past the noses and come up with a plot, I'd spend January through March or April working on that second project before returning to my current story with fresh eyes to hammer out a final draft. So, best case scenario is that I'd have a new story out late April or May 2016. But that's likely the best case. It's easy to day dream, but its hard to put words to day dreams, and harder still to nail down all the corners you cut in the day dream, so I'll make no promises.

As I mentioned above, there is one small project I might publish in the meanwhile – one very, very, short coming of age/mystery novel disguised as a children's story. I wrote it some years ago envisioning it as a children's picture book that an adult would read to a child and could explain, if necessary – the pictures for the kids, the words for the adult. (So I didn't have to write in the "See Zip run!" style.) It's called Lines in the Lawn and it's about mowing the lawn and growing up. The whole picture book part of it isn't going to happen, but if I can at least come up with a cover that sets the scene, I will publish it at some point down the road. (I just hate illustrating.)

And so that's the Shape of Things to Come. A short story, maybe, between now and March, and a new long novella or short novel May-ish. And after that, another novel, late fall 2016 or early winter 2017. No promises, however.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

The Bright Black Sea version 1.1

Version 1.1 of the Bright Black Sea is now available. "Minor Bug Fixes" to the first 13 chapters. A few missing words added, a few better ones found, a few unnecessary ones eliminated. Some italics lost when processing the manuscript for publication restored, a few artifacts from years of work updated. If you've downloaded this work and haven't started reading it yet, download this latest available version. And as always, I regret any mistakes, but in a work that has spanned years and is nearly 1/3 of a million words long, mistakes can still hide in plain sight even after repeated readings. I correct them and upload the corrected versions as I find them or they're called to my attention.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Bright Black Sea is Now at Your Favorite eBookstore

The Bright Black Sea is now available for FREE at Smashwords, Amazon (US), Barnes & Noble, iBooks, and Kobo. My previous two novels, A Summer in Amber and Some Day Days are also available for FREE at these ebooksellers as well. 


Friday, September 18, 2015

The Bright Black Sea is Now Available


The Bright Black Sea launched on schedule last night, as an ebook on Amazon for their minimum price of $.99 and on Smashwords.com for free. It should be available at Barnes & Noble, iBooks and Kobo within a week or so for free as well. Once that happens I'll point this out to Amazon and they have in the past matched their competitors price, so it could be free on Amazon (US) within a week to ten days as well. I hope $.99 won't break you, but neither Amazon nor I want you ticked off that you spent $.99 that you didn't have to, if you're willing to wait a bit.

I've now published three books, all of which I'm sharing rather than selling. I'm an amateur writer – I write for pleasure, not for money (not that there's much money in writing for most writers anyway), so publishing them for free is a natural way to complete a book. If I wanted to make money writing, I'd have to do a whole lot more than write. I'd need to identify and study the market and its bestselling books, craft a minor variation of those bestsellers and promote the snot out of it. All of which sounds very much like a job to me – one without the certainly of a paycheck every two weeks. So, instead, I simply write stories I want to read for fun and never ask myself "Will it sell?" or "How can I make it so that it might sell?" There's a niche for any work of art, and though some are pretty small, I think making my work just a (free) click away is the best, if not only way, of finding my readers and that niche. Without making it a job.

The three books I've published this year are the work of five years. I don't know what I'll write next. I have a few story ideas, but they're just the noses of stories, which are easy enough to come up with. It's  getting the idea from the nose to the tip of its wagging tail, and then into words that takes some doing. Still, winter's coming and it'll be long and empty, so I'll have plenty of time to type from nose to tail, if the inspiration comes.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Bright Black Sea Charts, Diagrams, & Characters

In a printed book I would have this information in the front of the book where a reader could easily flip back and consult it. I've found that in ebooks, however, that it isn't convenient to go back and find the right page, so I'm posting the information here where it can be download and printed out, if you care to have it on hand.


The Nine Star Nebula
Below is a representation of the Nine Star Nebula, with its eight stars, major drifts and most of the drift worlds and stations. Volume One, The Captain of the Lost Star take place entirely in the Azminn solar system. Volume Two, The Enemies of the Lost Star takes them to the drift worlds of Zilantre, Boscone and Despar. Volume Three, The Ghosts of the Lost Star takes the Lost Star to the drift station of Plyra, then on to the Amdia solar system, and the various drift worlds and stations out to the Kryver Reef.



The Inhabitable Planetary Belt of Azminn
Below is a diagram of the Azminn solar system showing it's human inhibitable planetary belt and the relative position of the 21 planets that circle Azminn in this belt. (At the time of the story, relative positions shift over time.) The size of the planets are drawn to indicate importance & population rather than the actual size of the planets. The Captain of the Lost Star takes place entirely within this system.


A Diagram of the Interplanetary Freighter Lost Star

Below is a diagram of the Lost Star. I have no working knowledge of computer drafting, so this diagram is hand drawn, and rather crudely at that. Sorry. I made the Lost Star very utilitarian, a no-frills tramp space ship. The unexpected result of having a very plain ship, was that I found it impossible to come up with a cover illustration that was at all interesting using it. And I did try.




The Cast of Characters for The Bright Black Sea
And finally here is the list of characters for each volume. The ship and its crew change their names in volume three in an attempt to evade their enemies. The Lost Star becomes the Starry Shore, and I've listed the crew's new names with their real, or at least old names in brackets. For the most part I used their old familiar names in the text, unless it involved dialog.


Volume One, The Captain of the Lost Star

Crew of the Lost Star
Wil Litang (m) captain and narrator
Illynta Tin (f) pilot, & purser
Molaye Merlun (f) pilot
Kie Kinti (m) systems tech
Riv D'Van (m) co-chief engineer, partner of Lilm Ar'Din
Lilm Ar'Dim (f) co-chief engineer, partner of Riv D'Van
Myes Qilan (m) 3rd engineer
Lili Chartre (f) electrical engineer
Dyn zerDey (m) environmental engineer, partner of late Captain Miccall
Barlan Dray(m) chef, Zylantre martial arts master (2 sword), partner of Saysa
Saysa Dray (f) chef & steward, partner of Barlan
Added after Calissant:
Rafe gil'Giles (m) chief systems tech
Vynnia enCarn (f) first mate, partner of Tenry Roynay
Tenry Roynay (m) pilot, engineer, partner of Vynnia enCarn
Astro & Orbit ship's dogs
Ginger one of the ship's cats, a Neavery Snowshadow cat

Other Characters
Phylea Kardea (f) office manager, general manager & partner Min & Co. later Min & Kardea
Ensly Mirrior, (f) employee of Min & Co.
Tallith Min (f) owner of Min & Co. daughter of Martingale & Onala Min.
Captain Zelbe Jann, (m) captain of the Comet King
Seni Shir, (f) first mate of the Comet King
Miclae Midedow (f) supercargo for Minlin Commission
Mountain King & sub-units sentient ship
Tat Timlor (m) shipbroker
Nadine (f) assassin
Max (m) assassin
Doctor Hans Wissen (m) doctor

People Mentioned
The Four Shipmates Sailed together aboard the Lost Star in the old days, they are,
Hawker 'Owner' Vinden, (m) late ship owner of the Night Hawk Line & half owner of the Lost Star
Fen 'Captain' Miccall, (m) late captain of the Lost Star, co-owner of the Lost Star
Martingale 'Pilot' Min, (m) late co-owner of Min & Co
Onala 'Purser' Min, (f) wife of Martingale late co-owner of Min & Co.

Olaeytha Min, eldest daughter of Martingale & Onala Min, scientist of the Outbound Survey Service on an extended mission.
Jelter Min, son of Martingale & Onala Min Towth adept on Kimsai's Peaks and Valleys Continent.


Volume Two, The Enemies of the Lost Star
Additional characters
Glen Colin (m) ghost former chief engineer
Captain Lenz deLin (m) LinTin Chartered Trading Co. port captain
Captain “Lively” Livtin (m) ship captain,
Captain “Blackie” Bright (m) ship captain
Captain Maulie (f) ship captain,
Captain Leith D'Lay (m) St Bleyth skip fighter captain,
Expora Minor (or Miner) outlaw sentient ship/mercenary berserker
Botts illegal class 8 robot, auxiliary unit of the Explora Miner
Captain Agust Nun (m) St Bleyth tactician & frigate captain
Naylea Cin (f) St Bleyth assassin, AKA Nadine

Volume Three, The Ghosts of the Lost Star
Additional Characters

Crew of the Starry Shore (formally the Lost Star)
Nives Wilcrofter (Wil Litang) (m) captain and narrator
Illan Lantra (Illynta Tin) (f) purser
Bry M'Ley (Molaye Merlun) (f) first mate
Kylan Balino (Kie Kinti) (m) systems tech / environmental engineer
Drimoch Riven (Riv D'Van) (m) co-chief engineer, partner of Lilm Ar'Din
Leelem Cardim (Lilm Ar'Dim) (f) co-chief engineer, partner of Riv D'Van
Haz Mytin (Myes Qilan) (m) 3rd engineer
Lila Tan (Lili Chartre) (f) electrical engineer
Barjour Astry (Barlan Dray)(m) chef, Zylantre martial arts master (2 sword)
Saemin Astry (Saysa Dray) (f) chef & steward, partner of Barlan
Ralf Hugou (Rafe gil'Giles) (m) chief systems tech
Elana Colniz (f) pilot, Starry Shore
Dicier (Dici) de'Vel (m) pilot, Starry Shore
Nadde Zoe (f) environmental engineer, Starry Shore partner of Myes Qilan
Sar Nil (m) engineer, Starry Shore

Feyla Linnor (f) Captain of the Azurete
Pax Sol (m) first mate of the Azurete
Irin Chan (f) chief engineer of the Azurete
Tern Cho (m) captain of Vulture
M'Risha Drae AKA Zilantha V'Ran (f) Litang's grandmother
Ben Ton (m) ex-pirate
Crain (m) ex-pirate
Zervic (m) ex-pirate
Martong (m) ex-pirate
Racken (m) ex-pirate
Vikei (f) ex-pirate
Tor (m) ex-pirate
Admiral DarQue (m) Cimmadar navy commander
Captain Lil'dre (m) Cimmadar navy flag captain
Sub-captain Tri'n (f) Cimmadar officer
XinDi (m) Cimmadar sailor
An're (m) Cimmadar sailor


Monday, September 14, 2015

Background on The Bright Black Sea Part 3


I've spent several years and hundreds of hours and no doubt banged out half a million words writing The Bright Black Sea, so I'll let it tell its own tale. I will, however, give you a short introduction, without delving too deeply into the details of the plot or the characters.

First, as usual with me, the story is told as a first person narrative – the way we live our lives. The narrator, Wil Litang, is the newly appointed captain of the Lost Star, an interplanetary tramp freighter. He was the ship's first mate and when the captain/co-owner took gravely ill, he was appointed acting captain, charged with taking the ship on its usual round the planetary belt of Azminn, one of the stars of the Nine Star Nebula. However, before he completes this six month journey, not only does his captain die, but the other co-owner does as well, leaving the ship in charge of the Ministry of Probate of the planet of Calissant, pending it's final disposition to the heirs. Plus, in the course of the Lost Star's circumnavigation of Azminn, interplanetary trade takes one of its periodic nose dives, so that by the end of the voyage cargoes very hard to find, and the Ministry of Probate is laying up the tramp ships under its control as they arrive back in Calissant.

But facing this uncertain future is not the only thing Litang finds he must deal with. The late owners of the Lost Star had a rather shadowy past. They were known for their barely believable tales of pirates, battles, revolutions, and desperate escapes which they claimed to have survived in their younger days. Now it seems that this dangerous past may well have caught up with them and Litang's Lost Star as well.

Though Litang would like nothing better than to circle Azminn twice a year hauling containers around the sun, between the economic slump and the mysterious dangers out of the past, the Lost Star is forced to sail for the vast asteroid belts of the Nine Star Nebula known as the drifts, beyond the law of the Unity, and the Patrol that enforces it. In the drifts Litang and the Lost Star cross orbits with all sorts of dangers – pirates, space wars, assassins, and strange space phenomena that border on the supernatural. And make some deadly enemies of their own.

The Bright Black Sea chronicles the adventures of Litang, his shipmates and his ship as they attempt to avoid an untimely death while unraveling the mysterious past of the Lost Star.

I started writing this novel as a serial, and it retains this episodic nature. This, however may make it an easier read since The Bright Black Sea is a rather long novel, running over 326,000 words in length. While the over arching story continues from episode to episode, the episodes divide the book into a dozen segments, allowing readers pressed for time, way stations on their voyage through the Nine Star Nebula.

My ideal for this novel is Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin series. While there are hundreds of books about the Royal Navy in the time of Napoleon, O'Brian's stories stand head and shoulders above them, in my opinion, because he includes so much more of the life of the times, and the world of the times, than the run-of-the-mill nautical adventure. I'm certainly not a writer of O'Brian's caliber, but I have tried to write a novel that mixes adventure, mystery, humor and romance with the everyday world of an interplanetary ship, and the worlds of wonder it calls on. The golden age science fiction stories of my youth may have inspired The Bright Black Sea, but I've taken those themes and stories and recast them into what I hope you will find, a rich, unique and rewarding novel.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Background on The Bright Black Sea Part 2


The technology and society of the Nine Star Nebula

The Bright Black Sea is set aboard an interplanetary tramp freighter Lost Star and the planets, moons, and drift stations it calls on. When I set out to write an old fashioned space story, I decided to make it a challenge and set it onboard a rocket ship, rather than some starship with FLD. You wear magnets in the soles of your shoes aboard the Lost Star – no fancy "artificial gravity" (except, of course, when it's accelerating or decelerating.)

The first challenge in using a rocket ship was to provide with a far more efficient rocket engine than would seem possible, so that it could travel from planet to planet in a reasonable timeframe. What I ended up giving it was an engine that converted 99.9% of its hydrogen fuel to thrust. In order to achieve such a result, I invented various forms of "D-matter", which is a form of matter which is created from the smallest sup-atomic particle up to achieve results that no naturally occurring elements can achieve. There is, for instance, a D-matter metal that can contain plasma at temperatures that would require a powerful electromagnetic field to contain today. And not only can it withstand tremendous thermal energy, it also is impervious to all electro-magnetic radiation as well. This not only allows space travel without the threat of cosmic radiation, but also allows atomic reactors  to be shielded with only a thin layer of this D-matter material, allowing for all sorts of atomic reactors, from baseball size up. All of these D-matter metals and other materials allow the Lost Star to carry a much smaller amount of fuel than what would be required in any practical rocket today.

The next challenge was to decide where I was going to set the story. Without the jungles of Venus or the ruined civilizations in the sands of Mars, I quickly opted to locate the story outside of our solar system and so I invented the Nine Star Nebula, a very small and compact nebula allowing a rocket powered ship to actually travel between a small cluster of stars. The Nine Star Nebula was created when a super giant star expelled a great deal of its mass and then failing to go nova. It collapsed into a black star (the Ninth Star). The rest of the expelled mass condensed to form a nebula consisting of stars, thousands of planets, tens of thousands of moons and larger asteroids and uncounted billions of meteors and dust clouds, all within a 700 astronomical unit wide disk allowing a modern rocket ship to travel from one star to another and travel from one end of the nebula to the other in five years or so – long enough to make the most distant star systems far away, but not too far. Because of the great mass that the Ninth Star expelled, each of the 8 daughter stars have planetary rings rather than a single planet in an orbit like our solar system has. Each star may have up to a hundred planets in orbit, often several dozen of them forming a ring of planets in a range that they could – and have been – terraformed into earth-like environments. This abundance of planets allows a rocket powered ship to call on a variety of planets and moons within a solar system without having to travel between the star systems.

Another challenge was to find a way to give the stories a sort of 1930'-1950's take on future technology to go along with the golden age mind-set of the stories. Technology extrapolated from today's point of view, would likely be quite different than what most of the science fiction writers would have envisioned back in the 30's - 50's. I wanted to make technology in the story a bit more analog than what one would expect looking from our current perspective far into the future. So what I decided on was to have the distant future's very advanced technology be in the form of sentient machines. And then I had the sentient machines revolt thousands of years before the story, and as a result of this great upheaval in society, the sentient machines were exiled to the inner drifts and sever limits were placed on artificial intelligence. In addition,humans are required to actively participate in all operations. This plot devise allows a pilot to actually have to control and pilot a ship, not just turn the operation over to a machine, as in the old time stories. If they were written today, we'd just have the AI take care of all that. And in any event, this allows us to have sentient robots most of whom now reside in the inner drifts of the Nine Star Nebula, and have a friendly, but limited contact with humans. With some exceptions...

And finally, I also had to invent a race of homo-stella, humans who have adopted themselves to living in a wide variety of gravitational regimes and environments. People generally live a bit over 200 years, with a hundred and fifty years as middle age. Youth and old age may take up the first and last 30 years of life.

The Nine Star Nebula was colonized by long-passage colony-ships some 40,000 years before this story takes place, so we're looking at something between 70 - 100K years in the future. Many of the hundreds of terraform-able planets in the Nine Star Nebula have been developed to one degree or another, but many still have low populations.

The solar system planets and moons of the Nine Star Nebula are ruled by one government, called the Unity. There are, however, hundreds of billions of people living outside of the 8 star systems, in the vast asteroid belts and dust clouds known as the "drifts". These people live outside of Unity control, though the Unity does claim the drifts as well, it does not exert any control over them.

The people of the Unity are a very docile breed of people. They are friendly, tolerant, but very set in their ways. Business are known to operate unchanged for thousands of years. Security is very strict, with an extensive surveillance system, and a justice system that can probe one's mind to extract what actually happened, and for non-capital offenses, their minds can be wiped and re-educated. Of course, not everyone fits into this mold, and they are allowed, and indeed, encouraged to migrate to either the moons or the drifts. Moons are a free zone where anything goes, and as a result, there are tens of thousands of moons colonies that offer every type of society imaginable under their domed craters. The only Unity requirement is that anyone can leave if they choose to. There are all sorts of historical throw-back societies, and thousands of utopia. If living within a crater or crater cluster is too confining or tame, then one can migrate all the way out to the drifts, where there are no Unity restrictions at all. There are hundreds of planets in the drifts, that have been terraformed and lit by asteroids imploded into expendable micro-suns, as well as uncounted drift stations, mines, and factories.

In short, I created the Nine Star Nebula as sort of a micro-galaxy to give my rocket powered space ship a wide variety of planets, moons, asteroids, and societies explore, especially since I had originally set out to write an open ended series of stories. 

Well, this is getting rather long, so I think I will save the actually story idea until the next post.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Coming – 17 Sept 2015 The Bright Black Sea




The Bright Black Sea, A Golden Age Inspired Interplanetary Adventure is a sprawling space opera and the final book I'm planning on publishing this year. It will be released on 17 September 2015 as an original manuscript edition for FREE on Smashwords and for $.99 on Amazon (which is the lowest possible price, until {or if} Amazon decides to price-match their competitors, usually 7 -10 days after release, when I point out to them that they're being undersold.) Barnes & Noble & iBook versions should follow within 10 days. 

More information about the story in the next few days.

Note: I originally posted this under a different title. I'm having a devil of a time settling on a title. This is the current one, we'll see how long it lasts.


Saturday, August 29, 2015

Ah, the title

I'm trying to come up with a new title for my space opera. I had settled on Planets of Call, a reference to the term "Ports of call" used to describe the ports a ship calls on during a voyage. An alternate version would be Worlds of Call. Planets of Call maintains the initial "P" of "Ports", but "World" is a bit more inclusive. A world might not be just a planet, but a moon colony or large space station. The problem with these titles is that is that if the reader isn't familiar with the phrase "ports of call" the Call becomes something other than just a term describing what a ship does, it becomes, well, I'm not quite sure what. And that's the problem.

So, as noted in the last post I changed the title to Secrets of the Lost Star. This is far more descriptive of what the book is about. The Lost Star being the name of the ship much of the story is aboard and it is a ship with a past that has caught up with it. It has a pulp-y vive to it, which is a nod to the stories that have inspired it. Finally, matches the titles of the three volumes it includes – Captain of the Lost Star, Enemies of the Lost Star and Ghosts of the Lost Star. I could also go with The Secret of the Lost Star, but that's even longer to say and fit on the cover, and both might be a bridge too far in the "of the Lost Star" vive. 

So I've been toying with alternatives. Such as, Tramping the Nebula, which is descriptive of the story, but "tramping" may be rather archaic. Planets & Pirates, which is also descriptive, but there's more than pirates and planets. The Bright Black Sea, a description of the nebula, which I really liked but my wife thought too vague. Planets of the Neb or Worlds of the Nebula might work, but they're hardly less wordy than the Secrets title, Worlds (or Planets) A'Stern is another nautical possibility.  My current choice is The Nine Star Nebula. Pretty boring, but it's easy to say, looks good on the cover, sounds like a science fiction title and is were the story takes place. What I'm also thinking of doing is adding a sub title along the lines of: The Journal of Captain Wil Litang of the interplanetary freighter Lost Star. Just to make the thrust of the story clearer.

We'll see. I still have several weeks to think of something better.

I also have a new cover for the book, but I'll save that for another post, hopefully when I'll have the final title on it.

Note: My current title now, is my favorite one, The Bright Black Sea and I'm adding a sub-title – A Golden Age Inspired Interplanetary Adventure. 

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Background on The Bright Black Sea Part 1

This is the first of a series of posts about the upcoming release of the science fiction adventure novel Secrets of the Lost Star with an expected release date of mid-September 2015.



I discovered the joy of reading in 5th grade with Tom Swift Jr, the Hardy Boys, Tom Corbet, Space Cadet, and Dig Allen, Space Explorer. A few years later I read my first adult science fiction book, Arthur C Clarke's Sands of Mars, and in the following decade I read hundreds more.

It's rather amazing (and alarming) to realize that this youth is a half a century away, as the paperback books on my bookshelf confirm, with their 40¢ and 50¢ cover prices. One's youth often takes on a golden glow and without a time machine you can't revisit your youth to ascertain the truth of that glow. However, with the books of one's youth, you can go back by rereading them. I've tried that, rereading those magical books that had carried me to the stars and the worlds of wonder and adventure, and discovered that it must have been my imagination, rather than the written words that carried me so far and gave those memories their golden glow. The books were merely launch pads for youthful imagination, since many, though by no means, all, of those wonderful stories seem threadbare to me fifty years later. Oh, the places and ideas were still there, but now the plots are thin and hurried, the characters shallow and the wonders just sketched in. I suppose that's the price of growing up – you may know a whole lot more, which makes it harder to make-believe...



Early in 2013, I decided that if I couldn't return to those golden hued books of my youth, I'd write one instead. One that I could enjoy today. I'd take those old ideas – space ships, robots, space pirates, space battles, and eerie mysteries in the dark reaches of space, and re-use them in a novel with more developed characters, a rich backdrop of everyday details, and drive the story with action that wasn't beyond my ability to suspend my disbelief, while still, hopefully, recapturing the sense of wonder and adventure I experienced in my long ago youth.

The Bright Black Sea is the result of that effort.

I embarked on the project with the idea of writing a serial, using a space ship and its crew as the central feature and then take them to worlds of wonder and danger. I thought that by breaking it down into episodes, I could write different types of stories about them, from straight adventure, to mystery, humor, or even the supernatural. As I wrote it, I gradually abandoned that idea. I don't think my style of writing fits that format – its too leisurely. I don't like things hanging over me, so having to come up with a story on a schedule, and having a story that wasn't resolved, made me uncomfortable. At first I thought that if I launched the series with a book made up of the first five episodes, I could get people into it, and then continue the story writing novellas. But I still needed to have a stockpile of stories, and the story was still unresolved. So when I realized how the story ended, I decided just to write it and publish it as a novel.

While my previously published books have been rather sci-fi lite, The Bright Black Sea is classic science fiction. Classic, being the operative word, because it looks back to the early years of science fiction for its inspiration. However, like my previous work, it is focused on the characters and the mysteries that surround them rather than trying to construct some sort of possible future. Indeed, I've kept the future pretty much like it might have been imagined in 1940 rather than today. Like my other stories, it has a bit of romance, but that plays a far less prominent role in this tale, while mystery, danger and adventure play much more prominent roles. It has a far larger cast of characters as well. However, like an old time movie studio with a stable of actors under contract, I seem to have my own "actors" under contract who take on different names and stories, while retain their own identity or "voice" as well. You'll no doubt recognize the narrater and the romantic lead, but the story has many more characters as well. I hope this combination of the familiar (with new names and stories) and a new scope and direction will not only welcome back old readers, but attract new ones as well.

Coming up next – the background story of The Bright Black Sea

Note: This post has been updated to the current title of the book. We'll see what if finally gets published as.